Zambia’s wheat production under stress


Lusaka -Zambia’s continued production of wheat is under threat because of unpredictable weather patterns, with growing fears that various cereals could be wiped out of the continent by 2020.

Zambia’s wheat production, according to government, might decline by over 26 percent. Wheat is the raw material used in the processing of various confectionaries, including bread.

According to the country’s projections, Zambia this year expects a wheat production deficit of 72 000 tonnes, although the country’s biggest farming group, Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU), believes there will be a surplus of 91 000 tonnes of wheat.

Agriculture Minister, Wylbur Simuusa, notes that wheat production would fall by 26.35 percent to 201 504 tonnes this year from 273 584 tonnes in 2013. 

The minister says the wheat that will be harvested this year is below the national requirement and government was pondering importing the commodity from South Africa, which was the only country in the region that matches Zambia’s wheat production capacity.

“Due to poor rainfall and low filling of dams, the country is expected to record a deficit in wheat production this year compared to last year and that is why some quantities of the commodity will have to be imported from South Africa,” Minister Simuusa says in his projections.

Government says it would, however, apply necessary measures to ensure that the country maximised its full potential to grow wheat and be the major supplier of the commodity to neighbouring countries.

On the other hand, the ZNFU argues that its members, at a meeting held in November last year, were in agreement that the country had a production surplus of over 91 500 tonnes as the country had a record production of 314 463 tonnes of the grain in 2013.

But the union’s media liaison officer, Kingsley Kaswende, has noted that: “However, only a few parts of the district experienced low filling of dams and it would be very premature for the nation to go on red alert and subsequently remove controls on wheat importation.

“The crop forecast survey by government was conducted in February 2014 and hence the wheat estimates captured were based merely on perception since the wheat planting season is between April and June.

“More reliable estimates on production can thus only be captured after June. In order to get accurate estimates, ZNFU has engaged an Argentine company to estimate Zambia’s wheat production through satellite imagery and the results will be ready by October 2014.”

It would, therefore, be judicious to wait for confirmed estimates of the 2014 wheat output before making any alterations to the current policy environment governing the marketing of wheat, he argued.

According to Kaswende, wheat imports would also put pressure on the Kwacha and exacerbate its depreciation.

“Should the wheat farmers be discouraged from further production, rebuilding the sector may take very long. This would make Zambia vulnerable to the shocks that the international wheat markets may encounter.”

Meanwhile, according to a Southern African Development Community (SADC) report, wheat is the second most important grain crop produced in South Africa.

Most of the wheat produced in South Africa is bread wheat, with small quantities of durum wheat being produced in certain areas and is used to produce pasta.

In South Africa, wheat is mainly used for human consumption (bread, biscuits, breakfast cereals, rusks, among others) and the remaining is used as seed and animal feed.

The major export markets for wheat originating from South Africa in 2011 were Zambia, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Zambia is the biggest importer of wheat from South Africa followed by Madagascar and Zimbabwe.

In 2011, Zambia alone absorbed about 88.1 percent of South Africa’s total wheat exports followed by Madagascar and Zimbabwe with 4.9 percent and 3.4 percent respectively. 

Volumes of Zambia’s wheat imports from South Africa decreased by 51 percent between 2007 and 2011 while Zimbabwe’s wheat imports declined by 55 percent over the same period, the report adds.

Globally, there are fears that food security in Africa is likely to be “severely compromised” by climate change, with production expected to halve by 2020, reports the Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) citing climate change experts. A report launched recently in London by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that cereals and other foodstuffs would be wiped out of Africa by 2020 or thereabout unless drastic measures are undertaken by countries. 

“The discussions concluded that Africa is likely to be the most affected [by climate change] partly because of the increasing aridity in the north [the Sahel] and Southern Africa: and these are the most populous parts of the continent,” IRIN said citing Martin Parry, the co-chair of the IPCC’s working group, which authored the report.

August 2014
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